Energy Solutions

Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariffs

Posted on October 27, 2009 by Alex Wilson

Vermont made history last week, becoming the first state to offer “feed-in tariffs” for electricity generated from renewable energy sources.

Feed-in tariffs have been used since the early 1990s in Europe, most notably in Germany, to jump-start the photovoltaic(PV) Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. (solar electricity) industry. In a nutshell, they are government-mandated, long-term power purchase contracts for electricity generated by renewable energy systems at rates that are significantly higher than the market rate for wholesale power.

Improving Water Heater Efficiency

Posted on October 21, 2009 by Alex Wilson

Last week I wrote about a high-tech solution for water heating--heat-pump water heaters that can cut costs by more than half compared to conventional electric water heating. This week, I’ll address the low-tech efficiency side of water heating.

Heat-Pump Water Heaters

Posted on October 13, 2009 by Alex Wilson

There’s a revolution underway with electric water heating. It could be just as significant as the shift from top-loaders to horizontal-axis front-loaders that we’ve seen in the laundry appliance industry.

For years, electric water heaters were simply insulated tanks with a couple of electric-resistance elements that heated the water. These have worked pretty well, and with the highest-insulation products, the “Energy Factor” (a standardized measure of efficiency that factors in losses through the insulated tank) of the best products get pretty close to 1.0 (100% efficient).

Efficiency First

Posted on October 6, 2009 by Alex Wilson

I’m writing this from San Francisco, where I’ve been at the West Coast Green Conference. This is the fourth year of the event--the nation’s largest green building conference and trade show focused exclusively on residential applications. It was in the Fort Mason Center, a sprawling, ex-military base with large, daylit buildings that are now used for exhibitions, and assorted meeting spaces throughout other buildings in the complex. It’s right on the water, just west of Fisherman’s Wharf--looking out on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Time to Tune Up Your Heating System

Posted on September 29, 2009 by Alex Wilson

Mechanical systems need to be tuned up periodically to keep them operating smoothly and efficiently. That’s true with our cars, and it’s true with our heating systems. If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to get your heating system inspected, cleaned, and tuned.
Some of this annual maintenance can be done by homeowners, but most of it should be done by a heating system technician.

Here are some things you can do yourself:

Avoid Unvented Gas Heaters

Posted on September 23, 2009 by Alex Wilson

Let me get right to the point: unvented gas (and kerosene) space heaters and fireplaces are a bad idea. Don’t install one.

Combined Heat and Power in Sweden

Posted on September 17, 2009 by Alex Wilson

Last week I described some observations about transportation from a trip I took to Sweden two years ago. While there, I toured two state-of-the-art, wood-chip-fired, combined heat and power (CHP) plants, one in Kristianstad and one in Växjö.

Getting Around in Sweden

Posted on September 8, 2009 by Alex Wilson

I had the great fortune two years ago to spend a couple weeks in Sweden. In late December 2007 I was visiting my daughter, who was studying at Lund University.

When I arrived in Lund by train from the airport in Copenhagen, Denmark, it was late afternoon, raining lightly, and nearly dark—even southern Sweden is quite far north. I was immediately struck by the way people got around: despite the rain, bicyclists were everywhere; sidewalks were filled with pedestrians; and I think city busses almost outnumbered cars.

Where You Build May Matter More Than What You Build

Posted on September 2, 2009 by Alex Wilson

One of the things I like most about my seven-mile bicycle commute into work is the chance it affords me to just think about stuff in an unfocused way. When I drive to work (more often than I’d like) I usually have the radio on, letting the “Morning Edition” reporters direct my thoughts.

Air Conditioning With Ice

Posted on August 25, 2009 by Alex Wilson

Last week, we took a look at practical, easy-to-implement strategies for keeping our buildings cool during hot weather. This week, I’ll describe a fascinating way to cool buildings using electricity at night to make ice. This isn’t something most of us can run out and implement in our houses, but it’s highly practical and cost-effective for many commercial buildings.

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